Theri, as expected, is standard formulaic fare that is a glowing ode to its star and little else.
Films with big mass heroes down South are first and foremost all about satisfying their fans. Everything else including the story and cinematic grammar comes later. In that sense, Theri is no different. The film is basically all about Vijay and his virtues. While director Atlee understands Vijay’s strengths perfectly and draws on them pretty effectively, unfortunately on the flip side, he has practically nothing more to offer.
The predictable and stereotypical story goes like this. Mild-mannered Joseph Kuruvilla (Vijay) and his lively little daughter, Nivi (Baby Nainika), live a simple, happy-go-lucky life in a small town in Kerala, where Joseph runs a bakery and also seems to be finding romance with Nivi’s teacher (Amy Jackson in a terrible wig). A scuffle with some local thugs, who get beaten up by a not-so-meek Joseph, reveals his past. A few years earlier, he was, in fact, Vijaykumar, a tough cop in Chennai. His mother (Raadhika Sarathkumar) and wife, Mithra (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), were murdered in cold blood in front of him by the villain (Mahendran), whose rapist son he brought to justice, while he was shot, beaten black and blue and left for dead to be blown up in his own house. Taking advantage of his ‘death’, Vijaykumar relocated to Kerala with his daughter and started a new life away from it all as Joseph. But as the bad guys find out he is alive, they come after him leaving him with no choice but to become Vijaykumar again…
A few things do work in the film. Though cloyingly self-consciously cute, the scenes between Vijay and Baby Nainika (sweet but precocious) have their moments as do the ones with his mother, Raadhika( OTT), helping to establish Vijay, the perfect father, and Vijay, the perfect son. The first half of the film focussing more on the mild Joseph and the sprightly Nivi is engaging enough, but then the curse of the second half hits and the standard tale of revenge dips and struggles to get back on track, once it has derailed.
No doubt, Vijay is the film’s biggest strength. He knows what works and what doesn’t with him and has a fine sense of when to take the events happening on screen seriously, and when to simply have fun with them. And yes, there are enough in-house Vijayisms for his fans. His avatars of Joseph and Vijaykumar, allude to his real name, Joseph Vijay, while there are enough references to cult moments and memorable dialogues of his earlier hit films to keep his admirers happy. And for his Malayalee fans, he even speaks some Malayalam in the film! In fact, with Vijay’s huge fan base, it is always fun to see his films in the theatre on opening day and Theri was no exception. In almost a full house in a prominent Mumbai multiplex, there was much whistling, clapping, dancing and revelry, not just in the aisles, but also in front of the screen during the songs with an entire bunch of youngsters wearing identical Theri T-shirts and grooving to the beat!
Of course, with the film being all about Vijay and to a certain extent Nainika, none of the other characters are fleshed out well enough to really make a mark. The heroines, while being independent working women, have precious little to do except drool around this perfect man and even the villain’s character gets a lift not so much by its characterization, but by the unusual casting of veteran director Mahendran. In particular, a fine actor like Prabhu is totally wasted in a role of no consequence.
George C Williams does give the film some visual flair while other technicalities are adequate enough including the songs. The action sequences and song picturizations, however, needed more originality and pizzaz to really hit home while the background score, like most Indian films, is overblown and obvious. A mention has to be made here about the choreography in Vijaykumar’s solo song where Vijay boogies brilliantly, especially in a rather long take with varied dance steps with different groups of characters.
Overall, if one were to ask – does Vijay satisfy? The answer would be a resounding yes. And does the film? That would, unfortunately, have to be a no! It is just too pedestrian.
Finally, a question here about the U certificate given to the film so it could evade the 30% Entertainment Tax levy in Tamil Nadu. If The Jungle Book was deemed fit to be certified UA, how could film this be declared U? All the mind-numbing blood curdling violence aside, there are two doctor autopsies that talk in detail – first showing a gruesomely wounded girl who is gang-raped in the film explaining how an iron rod was inserted you know where to hide semen stains and then about her rapist whom we see killed and hung under a bridge upside down with the same doctor now declaring how he was tortured with his manhood being chopped off before he died. As it is, with the film being touted as the perfect festival family entertainer, the audience was full of families with enough kiddies from ages 3-8. I really wonder how the parents would explain all this to the more inquisitive kids.
Tamil, Action, Drama, Color